Last night I had the honor of visiting 93-year-old local Negro Leagues legend Herb Simpson at his home in the Algiers section of NOLA. The occasion was an interview for a handful of stories I have in the works.
I’ve been to Herb’s house about a half-dozen times, and each it time it’s quite a thrill. Herb is a man of few words, and when he has his hearing aid out he has a little trouble picking up what you’re saying, but he just has such a calm, tranquil, charismatic presence about him that every single time I’ve connected with him, I’ve had a blast.
Our topics of discussion ranged from his time with the Spokane Indians in 1952 and the Oakland Oaks in the 1954 preseason (both minor league teams), to his recent, groundbreaking induction into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.
I was especially eager to ask him about his brief tenure in Oakland, which, to my knowledge, had been unknown to the general public. I uncovered a few articles in the black press and the Oakland Tribune detailing his time with the Oaks during spring training. he didn’t make the team and was sent back to the Albuquerque Dukes, with whom he enjoyed several fine seasons.
Regarding the NOPBHOF, Herb was gracious and modest, as usual — “It was real nice,” he said of the ceremony last month — but he also expressed a mixture of puzzlement and irritation when he related how the Hall of Fame plaque he was promised by the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs still hasn’t arrived. He was told it would take two weeks. It’s now three-plus weeks and counting.
The last think I asked him as we sat on his sun-soaked porch was how he’s managed to live so long. He initially said two words: “Through Christ.” He then added, “I don’t smoke, and I’ve done all the things I’m supposed to do. When I had to go to school, I went to school, and when I had to go to church, I went to church.”